Tuesday, 10 March 2020

My body is changing

This morning I woke up early. It's happening more and more these days, partly due to my work schedule, partly due to my changing body clock.
I read a little bit in bed, hoping to fall asleep again, but when I realized that I was wide awake, I got up, made myself coffee and geared up to tackle a task that I have been postponing for a long time.

After the first few fortifying sips of deliciously hot coffee, I took a deep breath, stepped in front of my closet, and threw the doors open.

It was time. 
Time to say goodbye to the old me.

I was about to get rid of all the clothes and accessories that didn't fit me any more - literally and figuratively.
And it was harder than I thought it would be.

For the last 10+ years I have been happy as can be in my body. I didn't diet, I didn't restrict, I ate what I felt like and moved my body because it felt good. I adopted an intuitive eating lifestyle before it became a household name, and I felt really good about my body. Without trying I stayed the same size, and I smugly thought that I had it figured out. As long as I was happy and active(ish), I would be fine! It worked like a charm (for a while).

In my early 20s I was pudgy. I was stress-eating due to being deeply unhappy, and when I found love and subsequently lost weight, I was very eager to keep it off. For years I would watch what I ate, knew of "good" and "bad" foods like society had taught me, and I always had my weight at the back of my mind. I thought about it every day, often subconsciously, but it was the driving force behind almost every decision I made. I bought skim milk instead of 2%; I assured myself that I would make up for the endless hours of sitting in the car on one of our beloved road trips by getting up early to go for a vigorous walk; I even put the fact that I would be on my feet a lot as an x-ray technologist on my list of deciding factors that made me choose that career.

I didn't have an eating disorder; I was simply acting according to the values that I had been taught as a woman.
Me trying the "model stare" after watching my beloved America's Next Topmodel; I think I'm 33.

And it was fine. It was incredibly annoying, of course, having to prepare for a friend's wedding/family reunion/vacation/whatever else special was happening for weeks in advance - but that's what everybody did, right? If you wanted to fit in and look the part, you simply had to watch what you ate, work out, and always hope to drop 5 pounds.

But then I turned 30, and something magical happened.  
My skin cleared up. My anxieties eased up. And suddenly, wonderfully, I felt good in my body. I had stumbled upon my personal secret to feeling great: I finally had a career I enjoyed; I discovered passions I never knew I had; I embraced our lifestyle; and, as always, I had my supportive man by my side. (Notice how the way to finding body peace has nothing to do with anything diet- or fitness-related? That's not a coincidence.) 
My 30s were good. They were golden

Finally, for the first time in about 15 years, I focused on something that wasn't related to my body, weight, or my appearance.
It was incredible.
I never felt more liberated in my life.

I kept it up for years, and nothing changed. My body, my attitude, and my priorities all stayed the same.

But now things are different.
I haven't changed anything. I still eat the same. I enjoy my job even more now than I ever have before - because now I'm a gypsy x-ray tech, travelling between 3 places regularly and helping out in 3 more occasionally. I didn't even know it, but if I could pick a perfect work scenario, this would be it. Driving to different small towns in BC and to one big hospital just to keep my skills sharp; meeting new nurses, doctors, and patients all the time, changing up my drive to work and adapting to new scenarios. I love it.

So it's not my habits that have changed. My environment has changed for the better. And yet, my body is changing in ways I can't fathom.
These days, catching a glimpse of myself when I open the camera on my phone and it's in selfie mode is startling. Who is this stranger staring back at me?
When I see photos I didn't take of myself I have the same reaction: who is this? Quickly followed by disbelief and horror. 

I simply don't recognize myself. My body, who had become such a precious friend and ally over the last 10 years, suddenly feels alien. It's like going through puberty all over again, except in reverse: body parts I knew intimately change shape. Skin formerly firm (and finally blemish-free after a decade of acting up) is softening in ways that are unfamiliar. 

My metabolism is noticeably slowing down. 
My hips have spread out. My bum has gotten larger. Changes that would have happened after childbirth are happening now, despite me never having born children.
But I have born the challenges of motherhood just the same: I have worried about them countless times. I have cried for them, agonized for them, cheered for them and loved them all along. I deserve my wide hips and sticky-out bum. It's unfamiliar, but it's a change that deserves respect. 

The face that looks at me in the mirror is not the one I looked at before: it's more tired, more knowing, more reserved. 
The once-eager and trusting girl had to learn a few harsh life lessons. Every one of those lessons left a mark in her face. The bags under my eyes are dark and deep some days. There are permanent lines edged from the corners of my mouth to my nose. I have lines on my forehead. Everything is more droopy than it was just a few months ago.

But there are also laugh lines spreading out like a laughing mouth around my eyes. They are deep and not what we are supposed to have in these days of Botox and face fillers, but I love those lines. 
They tell me the stories of my biggest triumphs: falling in love with my soulmate; falling in love with my stepdaughters; finding and excelling at a career I adore; finding and pursuing my passion; assembling a pack of dogs around me that are my family; reconnecting with my old family; and countless big and small moments in between that made me happy. A few of my lines are dedicated to TV shows like Friends, MASH, or Frasier that have made me laugh for many years.

A few are dedicated to special friends who have the gift of making one laugh. 
One or two are dedicated to myself, when I make myself laugh. (These may be the most important ones; you have to be enough for yourself: support, friend, humour - everything.)
Aside from the slowing metabolism, middle-age spread and increasing number of silver streaks, the most predominant change in my body is that everything opens. Just like tulips who have only a few precious days of full bloom before they open up wide and fold into nothing, my body has been opening up, gotten softer. The touch of cellulite that has been content to stay at the back of my thighs for years has suddenly come into full bloom: it has blossomed down to my knees and all around to the front of my legs, rendering them into objects that are utterly unfamiliar to me.

They tell the story of how I didn't move last year when I was burnt out and hiding from the world in a small town in the middle of nowhere, eating candy and watching Netflix; they also tell the story of me quickly gaining weight in my late teens, and then losing it again in my early twenties. They tell the stories of many nights I sat with friends and my sister, drinking too much wine but solving all the world's problems.

Society tells me that I should fight this change with everything I've got. Diet, exercise, a whole lot of heartache and maybe a few surgical tweaks. Can't let myself go, right? Have to stop the march of time at any cost. Look at Jennifer Aniston or J.Lo (both of whom I admire wholeheartedly) - don't you want to be like them? Well, try harder then! Cut out sugar, cut our carbs, get up at 5am to work out, fight for your right to look hot even if you're middle-aged. And we (magazines, social media, movies and TV) will tell you what looking hot looks like: being slim, and free of any mark that life leaves on your body: lines, wrinkles, lumps, bumps and scars.

That's bullshit.    

I may still be getting to grips with my changing, as-yet-unfamiliar body. But one thing I know for sure: my days of fighting myself are over
I won't fight the natural changes in me. I won't declare a war on my body who has seen me through so much and has been so good to me for 40 years.
I will never count calories again.
I will never try to "reverse the clock".
No matter how hard people try, life leaves traces on us that Botox and surgery can't erase.
We have seen thing.
We have done things.
We have survived things our younger selves never thought we would be capable of.

Why would I want to erase that?
We, unlike Hollywood actresses, are lucky enough that the signs of our battle wounds won't affect our careers.
I plan to wear mine with pride (as soon as I've gotten used to them).

Having reached the half-point of my life, I know more than ever that I only have a limited time left to experience everything I want to experience: write more stories, love my people as much as I can, help my patients, see some more of the world.

Why should it matter what I look like?
It doesn't.

Once you stop worrying about what society tells you to worry about, you are free to do whatever the hell you want to do.
Don't waste your freedom on worrying about your body.
The whole world is available to you.



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4 comments

  1. I really like this, especially your last three sentences. I've been "celebrating" my mid 30's with rosacea and other weird body things out of my control, so thank you for reminding me I don't need to pretend like I can control things. <3

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    1. The beauty- and diet-industry took something completely natural - aging - and turned it into something we are made to feel bad about and fight as hard as we can. But it's a fight we are destined to lose, because we are fighting against the way our bodies are *supposed* to change.
      It's madness! I refuse to play their game. I observe what's happening (it's new and a bit strange and also very interesting), and then I move on with my life! We all deserve to. It's too sad to waste years on hating who we become, especially when aging is a privilege that many will never experience.

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  2. Wait until you are 62, like I am! I have always felt and looked young for my age, but all of a sudden in the last year or so, I feel like I am looking more my age, but that is okay. I live in an area where all my friends have had some kind of plastic surgery or at least
    Botox done, but I am not even considering it. Also, I have been overweight for at least 20 years, but I get compliments on how I look almost every day, so I am fine with it because I am happy and confident. We just need to love ourselves in every stage of life. That's what is important!

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    1. You're getting compliments because you are happy and confident in your skin! There's nothing more attractive than that. Good for you for not giving into peer pressure and getting Botox or surgical help - I think it's a slippery slope when people get started, not making them more confident as they hope to, but more conscious of everything else they'd like to change/"improve".

      There are countless better ways to spend our days instead of worrying about the way we look: creating stuff, enjoying nature, moving our bodies for the joy of it, hanging out with friends, playing with our pets, kids and grandkids. Life becomes so much bigger and more fun when we stop just looking at ourselves and start looking at the world around us.

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